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Apple’s New Corporate Citizenship Imperative

[fa icon="calendar'] May 6, 2015 9:59:30 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

At the Apple earnings call last week, CEO Tim Cook reported Apple’s latest record-Apple Paybreaking results and the strongest March quarter ever, with 27% revenue growth and 40% earnings growth year over year.

Cook then commented on the two new data centers Apple is building which will run on 100% renewable energy, risking another conservative investor backlash when he linked them to Apple’s climate change politics: “This is just part of the work we’re doing to protect the environment and leave the world better than we found it.”

This took real chutzpah. Cook took a drubbing last year from conservative finance group NCPPR and its followers for spending on environmental projects not related to profit. Cook snapped back at critical NCPPR representative Justin Danhof, “If you want me to do things only for ROI reasons, you should get out of this stock.”

Tim Cook has become the passionate poster child for green electronics, touting environmental progress even with shareholders groups that may not be cheerleaders. And his operations department is implementing good works, eliminating emissions in new and existing Apple buildings, removing toxins from production and sourcing sustainable forests for packaging.

Just as important, Apple’s brand communications support its environmental efforts. Apple’s web site’s Environmental Responsibility touts both its green philosophy and its concrete actions. Cook intones on an Apple web video called “better” that “Climate change is real and a real problem for the world” and boasts that 94% of its corporate facilities and 100% of its data centers are now powered by renewable energy such as solar power.

Is Apple, now the world’s biggest company by market capitalization, finally leading corporate citizenship too? And doesn’t this just make Apple more vulnerable to environmental critics?

In fact, Apple is more vulnerable. An analysis in Huffington Post of Apple’s own 2014 report on climate change efforts reveals that “manufacturing (mostly in China) accounted for a whopping 73 percent of the company’s 34.2 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.” Only 1 percent of the company's emissions are connected to its solar-powered headquarters and data centers.

Bloomberg’s Adam Minter recently attacked Apple for the same thing, noting that other companies like Boeing and GM already have factories powered by renewables. Apple is a laggard even among technology companies. Working with BSR, HP has developed energy-management action plans for 20 supplier factories in China. IBM now requires its nearly 20,000 suppliers to chart their emissions and energy consumption and develop plans for reducing both. Apple has joined the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition but has yet to announce specific targets. This suggests that Apple is engaged in, if not green-washing, then selective reporting.

Apple may be late signing on to corporate citizenship, but it’s just in time. The maker of Macs and iPhones has for years had success using fabulous design and cool chic to ride roughshod over environmental critics and techie complaints about closed systems. Now, the company is entering consumer payment systems (Apple Pay) and health care information (HealthKit), markets where trust is absolutely paramount. These products lock consumers into Apple for their money and their health, and what could be more personal?

Apple is selling to a generation whose purchases are, more than ever, guided by a company’s environmental actions. Six in ten 16- to 20-year-olds (“Generation Z”) say they will go out of their way to buy products and services from businesses they know are helping to create a better world, up from five in ten among Gen Y. And a post-2008 crash McKinsey study noted the widespread perception that financial services have violated their social contract with consumers, leaving space for a trusted source in consumer wallets. Apple needs creds as a corporate citizen to succeed in this new arena. An honest and aggressive commitment is required.

In Apple We Trust? See more on Cynthia Figge's chapter in the book Trust Inc. 

Photo courtesy of Darlo Reyes via Flickr CC


Carol Pierson HoldingCarol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council’s Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 14,400+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 14,400+ companies from 135 industries in 127 countries. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

 

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[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in Apple, Apple Pay, Bloomberg, climate change, Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition, Justin Danhof, iPhone, sustainable forestry, Uncategorized, iMac, NCPPR, solar power, toxins, Adam Minter, Carol Pierson Holding, green washing, HealthKit, investor backlash, renewable energy, Tim Cook

Author Jonathan Franzen Says Saving Birds Trumps Climate Change

[fa icon="calendar'] Apr 7, 2015 9:19:57 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By: Carol Pierson-Holding

The California drought caused hydropower production to plummet by 46 percent. The silver lining?  Solar power increased, making up for 83 percent of the hydropower decline.

Dead Bird-Climate

I’m a huge supporter of solar energy, which appears to be an inexhaustible and “free” source of energy. But an article in this week’s New Yorker by National Book Award winner Jonathan Franzen points out that solar panels, when not installed in rooftops but laid out in “horizon-reaching solar farms,” can be just as bad, as can all forms of renewable energy. In Franzen’s words:  “We can dam every river and blight every landscape with biofuel agriculture, solar farms, and wind turbines, to buy some extra years of moderated warming.”

Franzen dissing renewable energy? He is a thought-leader in environmentalism. His 2010 novel Freedom features environmentalist Walter Berglund as protagonist, fighting the immoral forces behind strip mining. In 2011, Franzen was included in The Guardian’s top 20 Green Giants for setting the global environmental agenda. He is also a birder and Audubon Society fan. So it’s disturbing that he spends seven pages of beautifully written prose trying to convince us that we can’t do a thing about climate change and shouldn’t ruin our comfortable lives trying.

Franzen’s article bemoans the Audubon Society’s web site and its new focus on climate change, “the greatest threat” to American birds. Franzen references a writer at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Jim Williams, who blogged that fighting a local stadium project whose glass walls would kill thousands of birds is insignificant in the context of climate change, which could wipe out nearly half of North American bird species by 2080. Franzen’s counter is chilling: “…can we settle for a shorter life of higher quality, protecting the areas where wild animals and plants are hanging on, at the cost of slightly hastening the human catastrophe? One advantage of the latter approach is that, if a miracle cure like fusion energy should come along, there might still be some intact ecosystems for it to save.”

In other words, save the birds and forget taking action to mitigate climate change because “… it makes no difference to the climate whether any individual, myself included, drives to work or rides a bike. …if I calculate the average annual quota required to limit global warming to two degrees, I find that simply maintaining a typical American single-family home exceeds it in two weeks.”

Instead, Franzen advocates for conservation projects in Peru’s Manu National Park and Coast Rica’s Guanacaste, smaller, local efforts conducted by natives who safeguard biodiversity, while failing to note that the preservation of forests — and in the case of Costa Rica, tree planting as well — also serves to combat climate change and is, in fact, what some believe is the most practical place to start.

I hope there aren’t a lot of smart, talented people like Franzen who think like he does. Especially in California, where Governor Jerry Brown is asking for citizens to combat the drought by voluntarily cut their water consumption by 25%. He’s not asking farmers yet, but counting on citizens to pitch in first. Of course we’ll need a monumental breakthrough on the scale of Franzen’s “cold-fusion” to save ourselves from extinction, but if (or when) that happens, we’ll all have to be living dramatically altered lives with less water and a smaller carbon footprint.

Whether we’re tree-planting conservationists like those Franzen visited in Costa Rica or climate change activists riding bikes to work, we’re all engaged in activism for both at the same time. Our whole way of living has to change, to both honor species and at the same time, reduce our energy consumption. So Mr. Franzen, put your considerable talent to work again and this time, persuade your readers to think of both species conservation and climate change with every action. Changing human behavior has worked in the past and can work now. As for Mr. Franzen? Who’s to say he won’t love riding his bike to work. He’ll certainly be fitter. And possibly happier too.

Photo courtesy of Joel Kramer via Flickr CC


Carol Pierson HoldingCarol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council’s Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 14,400+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 14,400+ companies from 135 industries in 127 countries. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

 

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[fa icon="comment"] 1 Comment posted in Audubon Society, Coast Rica’s Guanacaste, Environmentalism, Freedom, Jonathan Franzen, Uncategorized, Peru’s Manu National Park, Jerry Brown, solar power, California drought, Carol Pierson Holding, conservation, global environmental agenda, hydropower, Joe Williams, renewable energy

Today, Sustainable Nylon. Tomorrow, the Planet

[fa icon="calendar'] Feb 10, 2015 10:57:42 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

“Optimism is a political act. Those who benefit from the status quo are perfectly happy for us to think that nothing is going to get any better.”

—     Alex Steffen, The Bright Green City

environmental inspiration

A young, environmentally focused chemist sent me news of a breakthrough in producing nylon, that ubiquitous chemical used for everything from stockings to zip-ties to jackets, tents and sails. Described in a recent paper by researchers Hwang and Sagadevan from National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan, the new process, if it can be brought to industrial production scale, would use far less energy and reduce nitrous oxide emissions dramatically. This addresses an enormous environmental problem: considered over a 100-year period, nitrous oxide has 298 times more global warming potential than carbon dioxide, and nylon synthesis creates 5-8% of those emissions from 10 billion pounds of nylon produced per year,

And that’s just nylon

I seems like everyone is working on a solution to climate change.  The poet and naturalist Diane Ackerman summarized some of the grandest schemes for Wired: India has announced an ambitious plan to transition the entire population of 400 million mainly to solar power; a separate initiative will plant two billion trees along India’s highways. In May 2014, Germany produced 74 percent of its energy from renewables. Sweden is now recycling a staggering 99-percent of household waste. China is about to invest $16 billion on electric car infrastructure. Ackerman concludes, “As a species, we’ve accomplished majestic things, and today is an especially exhilarating era of invention and discovery.”

Even Republicans now favor action on climate.

So many people working to battle climate change in every corner of modern life, but still, is it enough? Last week, I was stunned to hear a staunch supporter of environmental causes disparage her giving habits: “I don’t know why we give. It’s too late anyway.”

The science supports her. We’re long past the 350 ppm carbon limit over which humans cannot survive long term, and we’re nowhere near burning all the fossil fuels we’ll need to support our energy needs. In the often-quoted statement attributed in a 2006 Christian Science Monitor article to Jonathan Overpeck, a researcher at the University of Arizona, “CO2 remains in the atmosphere for more than a century; even if we shut down every fossil-fueled power plant today, existing CO2 will continue to warm the planet.”

And then there’s the argument put forth by Google engineers Ross Koningstein and David Fork after that company abandoned their much-ballyhood initiative RE<C to develop new technologies for cheap renewable energy: “…even if Google and others had led the way toward a wholesale adoption of renewable energy, that switch would not have resulted in significant reductions of carbon dioxide emissions. Trying to combat climate change exclusively with today’s renewable energy technologies simply won’t work.” Even more disheartening, “(Would) a 55 percent emission cut by 2050 bring the world back below that 350-ppm threshold? Our calculations revealed otherwise.”

Does this mean we should, like Google, just give up? You expect Ackerman to dream. After all, she’s a poet. But even these hard-boiled rationalists have faith:

“… We’re hopeful, because sometimes engineers and scientists do achieve the impossible. Consider the space program, which required outlandish inventions for the rockets that brought astronauts to the moon. MIT engineers constructed the lightweight and compact Apollo Guidance Computer, for example, using some of the first integrated circuits, and did this in the vacuum-tube era when computers filled rooms. Their achievements pushed computer science forward and helped create today’s wonderful wired world. Now, R&D dollars must go to inventors who are tackling the daunting energy challenge so they can boldly try out their crazy ideas. We can’t yet imagine which of these technologies will ultimately work and usher in a new era of prosperity—but the people of this prosperous future won’t be able to imagine how we lived without them.”

 

We got that sustainable nylon challenge licked. Next up, the race to save the planet. We’ve lined up chemists and poets and engineers and inventors and even the Republicans. It’s a race we just might win.

Photo courtesy of Stefan Mendelsohn via Flickr cc.


Carol Pierson HoldingCarol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council’s Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 10,000+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 10,000+ companies from 135 industries in 104 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 365 data sources, CSRHub has created a broad, consistent rating system and a searchable database that links millions of rating elements back to their source. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

 

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[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in Apollo Guidance Computer, emissions, global warming, Google, Jonathan Overpeck, Uncategorized, Ross Koningstein and David Fork carbon dioxide, RE>C, renewable power, solar power, Carol Pierson Holding, Diane Ackerman, environmental causes, nitrous oxide, sustainable nylon

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